By Kim Green
Our state legislature may have officially dubbed the 200-mile stretch of I-40 between Nashville and Memphis, “Music Highway.” But everybody knows that to hear the real music, you’ve got to get off the interstate and slow down to find the juke joints and honky-tonks along Tennessee’s lesser-known thoroughfares.
The same goes for sampling our state’s best traditional fare. You usually won’t find the perfect pulled pork joint on some interstate exit – it’ll be miles away from those choked ribbons of blacktop. Look for a crumbling brick smokehouse that’s been stoked by the same ancient man for decades in some remote town that time and the interstate ignored, and you’ll know you’ve found just the place.
A leisurely journey along the featured trails on Discover Tennessee’s Trails & Byways offers explorers an ideal way to enjoy the scenery along the road less traveled and to try some of the best eateries the state has to offer, from burgers to barbecue to down-home cooking. Here are a few of our favorites, from the Mississippi to the Smokies. We predict they’ll be music to your taste buds.
View Burgers, BBQ and Southern Restaurants Along Discover Tennessee’s Trails and Byways in a larger map
Best Byway Burgers
Bell’s Drive-In (Walking Tall Trail): West Tennesseans seeking the guilty pleasures of pan-fried burgers and thick milkshakes converge on this beloved diner in Henderson, situated along the Walking Tall Trail, which circles south of I-40 between Memphis and Shiloh National Military Park.
204 S. Church Ave., Henderson, (731) 989-2816. (Cash only)
Puckett’s Grocery (Old Tennessee Trail): The Old Tennessee Trail’s rolling farm country and antebellum plantation homes south of Nashville evoke a bygone South, while Puckett’s Grocery proves that some of that past lives on, deliciously. This traditional country grocery serves up traditional Southern cooking and, of late, the region’s other most sought-after art form – live music. Try Puckett’s famous burger, in all its elegant simplicity, or go all out and add pimiento cheese and bacon to it.
4142 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, (615) 794-1308 (Original location)
120 Fourth Ave. S., Franklin, (615) 794-5527
500 Church St. #100, Nashville, (615) 770-2772
Soda Pop Junction (Jack Trail): Stop in tiny Lynnville, a historic whistle stop just north of Pulaski, and slide into a booth amidst the charming chaos of old 45s, license plates, Elvis portraits, and even a bike or two hanging on the brick and paneled walls. The big vent hood behind the counter sports a prideful sign that touts itself as “Big Johnny’s Grill, Home of Tennessee’s Number 1 Hamburger.” You be the judge.
141 Mill Street, Lynnville, (931) 527-0007 (Cash only)
Tinsley Bible Drug Company (Sunnyside Trail): Take a break from the winding Sunnyside Trail in the northeast Tennessee mountains to stroll the stately Federal and Greek Revival inns of historic Dandridge. Climb onto a barstool at Tinsley Bible Drugs, a circa-1911 pharmacy and soda fountain. Enjoy the museum-like display of old pill bottles as you await your famous Bible Burger and an old-fashioned malt.
1224 Gay St., Dandridge, (865) 397-3444 (Closed weekends)
Reeves Drug Store (Jack Trail), 125 N. First St., Pulaski, (931) 363-2561
Rockabilly Café (Walking Tall Trail), 103 S. Front St., Selmer, (731) 645-6070
The Hickory Pit (Walking Tall Trail): A slow infusion of hickory smoke flavors the BBQ chicken and the pork shoulders, hams, and ribs at the Hickory Pit in downtown Savannah. Although barbecue’s their specialty, don’t neglect the specials – Southern favorites like chicken and dumplings, fried okra, and lemon ice-box pie. Try the neon cheese fries.
555 Main St., Savannah, (731) 925-2268
Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint (Jack Trail): “Here’s what we know,” says Martin’s website, a witty electronic homage to Southern culture: “Glitz ain’t got no flavor, so we don’t waste much time with it.” Pat Martin’s not afraid of a little self-effacing humor, as evidenced by the title of one of his signature dishes – the redneck taco, a hoecake piled high with pulled pork, sauce and slaw.
7238 Nolensville Road, Nolensville, (615) 776-1856
Ridgewood Barbecue (Sunnyside Trail): Hold tight to the wheel as you brave the twisty road to Bluff City, in the Tri-Cities area. Ridgewood Barbecue may seem remote, but to BBQ lovers, it’s legendary. The massive, sliced-pork sandwiches are made from hams, not shoulders, and the Proffitt family hands down the smoky-red-sauce recipe by oral tradition only. Hand-cut French fries and crocks of molasses-y BBQ beans are more than mere sidemen to the pork.
900 Elizabethton Hwy., Bluff City, (423) 538-7543
Jack’s Creek BBQ (Walking Tall Trail): 10 State Route 22A N., Jack’s Creek, (731) 989-4140
Larry’s Bar-B-Que At the Wagon (Jack Trail): 1941 Decherd Blvd., Decherd, (931) 967-9163
Jack’s Bar-B-Que (Jack Trail): 334 West Trinity Lane, Nashville, (615) 228-9888 (Another location downtown)
Heavy’s Barbecue Off the River (White Lightning Trail): 1501 N. Broad St., Tazewell, (423) 526-5550
Big Al’s On the Square (Walking Tall Trail): In tiny Grand Junction, once a rail hub fiercely defended by Union soldiers, owner Susan Tice is still whipping up the recipes her grandmother taught her – from-scratch cakes and pies, butter beans, and fried green tomatoes, to name a few. She might even add your family’s favorite dish to the menu, too. “People love it when I make one of their handed-down recipes,” she says. “They feel at home here.”
133 Madison Ave., Grand Junction, (731) 764-2711
Country Boy Restaurant (Old Tennessee Trail): Soak up the flavor of rural Tennessee’s past at Country Boy Restaurant in arty Leiper’s Fork, a scenic 40 minutes south of Nashville. Hanging quilts, patrons in overalls and a tableful of Southern delicacies will carry you back to a bygone era. Try the homemade Elvis fried pie – that’s peanut butter, banana and honey, thank you very much.
4141 Old Hillsboro Road, Leiper’s Fork, (615) 591-4245
Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House (Jack Trail): A dinner bell urges patrons to be seated, family-style, at one of several lengthy tables in this elegant former boarding house. Room hostesses from Lynchburg recount local history and lore as diners pass around heaping plates of Southern favorites, such as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, okra, and chess pie.
295 Main St., Lynchburg, (931) 759-7394
Bush’s Family Café (Sunnyside Trail): Stop in for an inexpensive casual Southern breakfast or lunch after immersing yourself in Bush Bean history and general bean lore at the plant museum. Try the signature pinto bean pie.
3901 Hwy. 411, Dandridge, (865) 509-3485
Jones Orchard Market and Kitchen (Walking Tall Trail): 7170 Hwy. 51 N., Millington, (901) 873-3150
Square Market and Café (Old Tennessee Trail): 36 Public Square, Columbia, (931) 840-3636
Clinch Mountain Lookout Restaurant (White Lightning Trail): 190 Lookout Mountain Road, Thorn Hill, (865) 767-2511
Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways are self-guided driving tours designated by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. New trails are still being unveiled and will ultimately include three statewide and 16 regional trails. To learn more about the trails, visit www.tntrailsandbyways.com.